MISSOULA — The South Hills, the UM Golf Course, and the Rattlesnake are all places where people have seen black bears this past week.
One bear even climbed a tree next to a wall at Saint Patrick Hospital; the bear was finally coaxed down after wildlife management specialists placed peanut-butter sandwiches and honey on the ground near the tree. The incident was shown nationally on the A&E television series "Live PD," which has been reporting from Missoula this season.
The bear was likely trying to escape the flashing lights of police cars and people taking photos on their cell phones, according to Montana Fish, WIldlife, and Parks Wildlife management specialist Jamie Jonkel; he and his team believe the bear was trying to find his way to the river.
The bear was able to make it to the river after FWP wardens disbanded the crowd. The next morning the bear left the area.
"If it's at 6:30 in the morning just as traffic's starting, they can be bumped and they can sort of rush north, rush south, and get caught in the middle of town," Jonkel said. "We get that every year. And I think that bear at St.Pat's the other day was just a bear lost in humanity."
Jonkel told MTN News that if the bear had not encountered people it likely would have continued through town the river, eaten its fill of berries, and then been on its way, causing no incident.
He says the abundance of apples and berries is what brings these bears down every year into town.
"To use the habitat they have to ignore us because we're everywhere. So in order to eat the berry along the river, or the choke cherry, they have to put up with the 15 vehicles that go by every half hour - the hikers and all the activity. So they become complacent in order to use the habitat. "
Jonkel says it is important to note that though these animals are coming into town there is a big difference between a bear that will tolerate being near people for food and a bear that seeks out populated areas to find it. "It doesn't take much to turn them from an apple bear to a garbage bear. We had to put a bear down last week that I think was being fed," Jonkel said.
To remain safe and prevent bears from getting in trouble, FWP always reminds people to remove any opportunity for bears to seek or find food in or around their homes, businesses and vehicles.
People should store all garbage, barbecue grills, pet food, horse pellets and livestock feed in a locked building. They should remove all bird feeders and clean up apples, berries and other potential food sources from their yard. Bear-proofing also includes thoroughly cleaning decks and patios around barbecue areas to remove odors from previous cooking.